The high court in Pretoria, South Africa on Tuesday approved the Oscar Pistorius murder trial to be broadcast live setting a precedent for future high profile cases. The ruling was made following an application made by several South African media companies to cover the highly sensational murder trial which has already been described by experts as “the O.J Simpson of South Africa’s judicial system”.
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During a live broadcast on South African TV, Judge Dunstan Mlambo ruled that the entire trial, to be held in the country’s administrative capital, Pretoria, could be broadcast on the radio and that specific portions of the trial — including opening arguments, expert witness testimonies, police officers, any other consenting state witnesses, closing arguments, along with the judgment and sentencing — could be broadcast on television. However the ruling did not permit television coverage of Pistorius’ testimony, witnesses for the defense, or anyone else who objected to appearing on camera. “Extreme close-ups” of anyone in the court were also forbidden.
The ruling, the first of its kind in South Africa, will give to millions of people in South Africa and around the world access to one of the most controversial celebrity trials since former NFL player, O.J Simpson’s 1994 murder trial.
Judge Mlambo, sitting in the Pretoria High Court, said that there were several issues that were considered in permitting broadcast of the highly publicized criminal case: right to a fair trial, freedom of expression and the open justice principle. “Court proceedings are in fact public, and this objective must be recognized,” the judge said responding to 27-year-old Pistorius’ concern that television coverage would compromise his right to a fair trial. “It is in my view in the public interest that, within allowable limits, the goings-on during the trial be covered as I have come to decide,” ruled the judge of the three-week trial which is set to hear from more than 100 witnesses.
Judge Mlambo, who will not preside over the trial, granted permission to the South African media companies to install unmanned, unobtrusive television cameras in the courtroom before the trial starts Monday, March 3. Additionally, still photographs could be taken by two mounted cameras operated by photographers however confidential discussions between the athlete and his lawyers would not be broadcast in any way. Judge Mlambo added that the ruling would dispel the “negative and unfounded” perceptions that the justice system in South Africa treated “the rich and famous with kid gloves whilst being harsh on the poor and vulnerable.”
Judge Mlambo said that the trial judge Thokozile Masipa could stop the recording of the trial at any time.
The ruling came two days after a new Twitter account, @OscarHardTruth, was created by Pistorius’ public relations team led by spokeswoman Anneliese Burgess. The account which already has more than 24,000 followers will, according to the first tweet “provide the hard truth as it unfolds and provide information that will become clearer during the trial.” Pistorius has also endorsed the account: “For the truths behind the Trial, Follow @OscarHardTruth. They will uncover the truth, the trial and those involved. #oscarhardtruth,” tweeted his official Twitter account.
The double amputee paralympic athlete faces a premeditated murder charge following the fatal shooting of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, at his upscale Pretoria home in the early hours of February 14, 2013. Pistorius faces 25 years to life in prison if he is convicted on the main charge of premeditated murder, which he has disputed. Pistorius admits to shooting 29-year-old Steenkamp four times through a locked toilet door, but claims he mistook the model and reality TV star for an intruder. He was released on R1million ( $93,109.07 USD) bail on February 22, 2013.
Pistorius also faces charges of illegal possession of ammunition and two additional gun-related charges.
Unlike the U.S judicial system, the South African legal system does not have trial by jury. Instead, a judge will preside over the trial proceedings and ultimately decide if Pistorius is innocent or guilty.
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